Future of Energy

The controversial role of EVs in reducing transport emissions

Posted on 03 September 2019

With an increasing focus on how the UK is going to meet its net zero commitment by 2050, lower-carbon or emission-free alternatives to the current state of play are attracting more scrutiny.

Since transport overtook the power sector in 2016 as the leading source of UK emissions, encouraging the rapid uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) is considered by many to be a necessity.

Especially since carbon emissions from transport are showing no signs of abating. 2018 saw a 2% rise from the previous year, with the increase attributed to diesel and petrol use.

Calls to bring petrol ban forward

That’s why there are calls on the government to bring forward the proposed ban on petrol and diesel car sales to 2035 or sooner, rather than the current goal of 2040.

The government is also being asked to reconsider financial incentives to assist in the uptake of low-carbon transport. And it’s being tasked with installing more public chargers to fulfil future demand.

In a recent YouGov survey of more than 2000 Britons, 74% cited concerns about finding somewhere to charge an EV as a barrier to ownership. Some 81% also highlighted battery charge and range, and 64% the purchase price.

Price is key for would-be EV purchasers

Yet more than half (57%) of those questioned would consider buying an EV if it was “the right price”. This increased to 73% among 18 to 24 year olds.

Certainly, since the government reduced or cut grants for plug-in hybrid EVs (PHEVs) last Autumn, sales have dropped.

In July 2019, data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) showed sales of PHEVs were down almost 50% compared to the previous July.

But over the same period, registrations of fully electric vehicles were up 158%, from 880 in July 2018 to 2,271 in July 2019.

This contrasts to a drop in new diesel car registrations, which were down by more than one-fifth (22.1%) year-on-year.

EV market share growing – but still low

However, in terms of market share, pure EVs still only accounted for 1% of overall car sales in the year from July 2018 to July 2019. And while this is forecast to increase to 2.2% by 2020, it’s still not going to make a dramatic dent in the carbon emissions from transport.

Concerns about the high emissions required to produce EVs also call into question their ability to significantly reduce the overall carbon-intensity of transport.

Low-emission vehicles not the answer

A recent report from a cross-party group of MPs looking at the policy landscape needed to support the UK’s net zero goal said: “The government should not aim to achieve emissions reductions simply by replacing existing vehicles with lower-emissions versions.”

We could therefore see policies that encourage greater uptake of public transport and shared car ownership, especially since the report also notes: “In the long term, widespread personal vehicle ownership… does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonisation.”

So, as with many areas of the UK’s low-carbon transition, dramatic change is on the horizon.

If you’d like to understand how these changes will impact your business – or the positive steps you can take to reduce the carbon intensity and increase the sustainability of your operations – talk to our experts at Energy HQ. You can contact them on 0800 193 6866 or send an email to nbs@npower.com.


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